By 15, Leane Guerrero had given birth and lost custody of a child.
To cope, she experimented with drugs until a meth addiction resulted in a lengthy prison sentence in 2006. She was only 24. Then, she really got hooked.
But her new narcotic of choice required running shoes and willpower, not pipes and pushers.
Guerrero, of Crookston, Minn., will compete in Sunday's Twin Cities Marathon -- her first -- a year after being released from the state women's prison in Shakopee, where running became her passion and helped her stay away from drugs. She's been sober for five years.
"Where I come from, kids don't do things like that," said Guerrero, 29, about running Sunday. "It's something that means something. It's something I worked for."
The promise of an early release -- she had received a 12-year sentence for drug-related charges -- and improved health drew her to apply for a special boot camp program. One problem, however, for the 5-1 Guerrero, who at the time weighed 192 pounds: she couldn't run the required mile in under 15 minutes.
She set out to change that and her body fat ratio so she could gain admission to the six-month Challenge Incarceration Program, held at the Minnesota prison system's Willow River/Moose Lake site.
"After being in prison for that many years, I was pretty bound and determined not to be stuck there," she said. "I was just determined to pass that part of it. I wanted to get into boot camp. That was my goal."
Guerrero lost the weight and conditioned her body to complete the timed mile and get into the program in 2010. Running had become a pastime that allowed her to focus on something positive and fight off the vices that led to her incarceration. The program entailed daily training and exercise. But Guerrero wanted more.
One day, she approached the supervisor with a request to allow the women in the program to run on a nearby track.
The prison official said he couldn't accede their wishes because of security concerns. But Guerrero convinced the supervisor that an escape attempt wouldn't be prudent for prisoners hoping to leave jail early. He finally agreed but demanded a minimum 2-mile run every morning.
Guerrero and her fellow inmates did 5.
"On the weekends, they would take us out of the facility and let us run down the highway," she said.
Last September, Guerrero was released after serving a little more than four years in prison. She's maintained the same focus in her new beginning as she had when she exercised behind bars.
She married her high school sweetheart with whom she's raising five children.
They moved back to Crookston, where they own a barbershop, Skill Cutz.
She's completed the cosmetology program that she started in prison.
And she kept running.
She's a member of the Crookston Running Club, a group comprising doctors, professors, farmers and one motivated parolee.
Sarah Bohn, who met Guerrero in the prison boot camp program, said running has helped Guerrero get her life back.
"I think it just helps clear your head, gives you something to be able to go out there and think through your problems," Bohn said. "It's made her more confident."
She didn't have much confidence in her early years.
The daughter of migrant workers, Guerrero moved back and forth between San Antonio and Crookston with her parents. After her parents divorced when she was 10 years old, her family struggled financially. Sugar water and fried bologna were common fare, she said.
When she was 14, she got pregnant. And soon after she had the baby, its father's family sought and gained custody of the child. The loss of her daughter, Paula, crushed her.
"From there I kind of lost myself," Guerrero said.
But Sunday at the Twin Cities Marathon, there will be signs of her recovery.
She's regained custody of the daughter she lost as a teenager. Paula, along with her four other siblings, and Guerrero's husband, Brendan LaFrance, will stand along the course and cheer for her.
"It's her outlet. It's her stress relief. It's her way of meditation," LaFrance said.
She's running the marathon to raise money (more than $600 thus far) for Twin Cities Rise, an organization that aims to help minorities find employment. She's aiming to run in under 4 hours, 45 minutes.
Guerrero, more than most, understands the struggles facing some of the people she hopes to help and the power of finding a mission that can lead to better days.
"Running became, to me, an addiction," she said.